The Challenge Of A Seared Conscience-Part 1
This post is part of a series on Challenges To Our Faith. It’s not really necessary to follow the series in order, but if you’re interested in the rest of them you can find the landing page for the series here.
The Challenge Of A Seared Conscience
So what is our conscience? To answer that question I think it would be good to let the Bible be its own best commentary and see how the word translated “conscience” is used in other places in the New Testament.
Romans 2:14-16—For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
—The conflicting thoughts of the Gentiles about their conduct, good or bad, is their “conscience”.
Romans 8:7-8—However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.
—It’s also important to realize that our conscience does not actually determine what is right or wrong. But it can make us FEEL like we are doing something right or wrong.
Hebrews 10:1-4—For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
—The Hebrew writer tells us that the old law couldn’t give the Jews a clear conscience, because every year they were reminded of their past sins. Our conscience is our awareness of sin.
Hebrews 13:18—Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.
—It is our conscience that is not only aware of good and evil, but that prompts us to desire good and shun evil.
We see then that our conscience is our heart’s awareness of good and evil that prompts us to act on that awareness.
So if we’re worried about having a healthy conscience, what is a sign of a weak conscience?
I think sometimes we get caught up in the misconception that a good conscience is one that is quick to condemn.
We see this in the world and in our churches…..The people who abstain from more than what they have to (my great-grandmother wouldn’t allow cards or dice in her house because some people in the world used them for gambling), the people who insist on doing more than they have to (the preacher who says anything that keeps you from attending every night of every gospel meeting is a sin), and my personal favorite-those who demand that others avoid things that are perfectly legal and scriptural because they see it as “a slippery slope”….THOSE are the people that are viewed as the “best Christians”.
But look at what Paul spent so much time talking about in 1 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 10:27-30—If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience — I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks.
Paul makes in clear in Chapter 10 that eating meat (even meat offered to idols) wasn’t a sin but that he was at liberty to eat it. He repeats this stance in 1 Timothy 4:1-5….Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
But what about those people who ignore the liberty they have to eat meat? Not those false teachers in 1 Timothy 4, but those people whose conscience convicts themselves for eating the meat?
Does Paul consider them stronger because their conscience is so quick to condemn them?
No. Paul uses the word “weak” to describe those people and their conscience in Chapter 8.
1 Corinthians 8:7-12—However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
Which conscience is more dangerous? The conscience that doesn’t condemn when it should or the conscience that condemns when it shouldn’t?
I’d argue that a conscience that finds guilt when there is none is just as dangerous as a conscience that doesn’t compel guilt when it’s needed.
The danger of a conscience that is violated all the time by things that it shouldn’t be is that every day it’s being seared and numbed…..for no reason.
The point is this….A conscience that is offended by what is right is not stronger than a conscience that isn’t offended by what is wrong.
We should strive for a conscience that is in harmony with God’s will.
So let’s assume that after careful study of God’s word we’ve reached full enlightenment. We have a perfect understanding of God’s will and how it should apply to our lives. We’re still not out of the woods.
Because Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:1-5—Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
Paul speaks of a situation in which our conscience, that internal voice that tells us what is right and what is wrong, can be seared. The idea of a seared conscience is one that doesn’t feel anymore. It’s calloused and hard and insensitive.
The people whose consciences are seared in 1 Timothy 4 are believers who have departed from the faith. They aren’t just bad people who have always been bad, they are people who at one time were in the faith and left it. Those people violated their conscience so often and / or so terribly that their conscience became numb and “seared”, and they eventually fell away from the faith.
For the sake of word count I’m going to stop here today. I’ll post the rest of the class tomorrow.
What I’d like to discuss is how we can have our conscience seared today. What is it that happens to sear that conscience? What happens when our sins of temptation become sins of habit? And when our sins become habit, what do we need to do to break that habit?
The second part of this post can be found here.